By Adam Pack
The Greenbrier County Board of Education met for their regularly scheduled August meeting Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 1 p.m. at the GCS Achievement Center Board Room. A full docket consisted of various inter-instructional period decisions and preparations, chief among them the decision to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with local law enforcement.
This memorandum of understanding, which is between the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department, all municipal police forces operating within the county, and the Board, establishes the parameters and procedures for the training and placement of off-duty police officers at schools within their respective jurisdiction. Secondary schools have already had Police Resource Officers (PROs) on hand for a number of years, and this program would help to bring the same level of protection to primary schools. Officers will be on school duty when off of regular police hours, will be armed, and must complete additional task specific tactical and strategic training.
Director of Security for the Board, Vince Deeds, was on hand to present the MOU to the board and answer questions. “Parents and families will be pleased, it will help us retain more of our officers, and this is a big force multiplier for law enforcement efforts in general while keeping our children safe,” said Deeds. “There aren’t really any downsides that I can see.” Superintendent Jeff Bryant commented on the MOU, saying that “Nothing is too good for our kid’s safety.” The MOU was approved unanimously by the board.
The board also heard a presentation from Board of Education Director of Operations/Transportation George Brooks on Electric School Buses. The federal government has released and will release billions of dollars in reimbursements to school districts which sign on to replace some of their oldest diesel buses with electric buses. Brooks relayed that according to the guidelines set by the government, seven buses in the county currently qualify. Per the government program, the new buses’ purchase price must be fronted by the county, but is to be reimbursed by the government. Electric buses which almost perfectly resemble current school bus designs are upwards of $200,000 and buses that have a charter-bus design (manufactured by Greenpower) run upwards of $300,000. Brooks explained that the range of electric buses is roughly 140 to 160 miles per full charge currently, while a diesel bus with a full 100 gallon tank can run roughly 500 to 600 miles. “This is not a ‘field-trip’ bus, obviously,” Brooks added. “However, this is enough to complete a single bus route in the morning, and those buses can charge during the day if need be.”
In regards to charging, Brooks mentioned that he had spoken with Monpower and AEP and had been told by them that the existing service stations could provide power to charge electric vehicles, but would need to be upgraded. He was not quoted a price at that time. He also mentioned that the most cost-friendly charging device for the electric buses is one that does a full charge in eight hours. Moving up in price, charging devices do get faster, but will pull more power, and at the highest end “which no one can afford right now” is the construction of effectively “a small substation” at the bus depot.
Chief School Business Official David McClure said that this would be a positive opportunity for the county, as the county also receives cost reimbursement of 92.5 percent of “hard costs” associated with bussing and transportation from the state. “This covers oil, filters, fuel, tires, and things of that nature. Under the bus reimbursement formula now, that reimbursement is calculated by the value of our fleet, so adding these seven electric buses would raise the value of our fleet and therefore raise the value of that reimbursement and thus I think it’s a solid decision economically.”
Members of the Board, however, were deeply concerned about the prospect of battery powered vehicles for school buses. “I’ve looked into this matter deeply, and it seems that the lithium and the cobalt associated with the production of these batteries is highly toxic and highly caustic. If there were to be a wreck with one of these things, it could be a seriously dangerous hazardous waste issue with kids involved,” board member Richard Parker noted.
Board member Andrew Utterback asked, “How long will replacement batteries last, and what will be the cost to replace them?” Brooks responded by saying that no manufacturer of electric buses to his knowledge has answered the second question definitively due to fluctuating prices, however, they do claim that a battery lasts ten years and that by the time the batteries run out the price of batteries will have fallen precipitously due to advances in battery technology. Utterback responded by saying that, “We’ve seen multiple stories of Tesla batteries, advertised to last for five years, lasting two. And if the battery is damaged then the lifespan doesn’t matter and we have to replace it for tens of thousands of dollars. What’s that compared to oil and filters, for example?”
Board President Jeanie Porterfield-Wyatt also noted concerns over the environmental impact of replacing buses. In order to replace a school bus, “The bus must be cut in half and have a hole drilled into the cylinder to render the engine inoperable,” according to Brooks. Wyatt responded, saying, “That doesn’t really seem very environmentally friendly, to just let it sit in some landfill because we switched it out.”
The Board then moved to a vote on the matter, and the motion to approve the purchase of seven electric buses via the federal reimbursement plan was rejected.
With the next item on the agenda, the board discussed action on a request for partnership between the Monroe County WVU Research Farm and Greenbrier County Schools. The WVU Research Farm in Monroe County is facing closure, as WVU College of Agriculture is making cuts in research farms of its across the state. However, citizens of Monroe County are interested in seeing the farm remain both a part of Monroe County and WVU and are willing to work with the University’s Agriculture Department to see that it remains so. Pursuant to this, the Monroe County Commission and Board of Education have been given an opportunity to see the farm not only remain in operation, but host more research and community involvement. If Monroe County and its Board of Education can demonstrate through proposed projects and robust partnerships that it can be a viable source of research and development, the College of Agriculture will consider allowing the facility to remain as is.
As such, Monroe County and their Board have already partnered with several entities, and sought to partner with Greenbrier County Schools in more ways than just signatories: the two school boards have proposed allowing Greenbrier high schools to use the facility for science and agricultural experiments as an off-site laboratory of sorts. Several projects have already been proposed, and the list of partners now includes Greenbrier County Schools, as the board voted unanimously to join and help retain the WVU Research Farm in the Greenbrier Valley for use by Greenbrier Valley students.
In another partnership, the board also approved a joint effort with the Greenbrier Valley Aquatic Center on Tuesday. The agreement will allow Greenbrier County sixth graders, with parental permission and alongside their P.E. teachers to use the facilities at the Aquatic Center for a wet-dry gym class. Students will go as P.E. classes to the center, where they will get half of a class in one of the center’s dry gyms, while the other half receives free swimming lessons, and then vice versa. The initiative is more than just fun, however, as Superintendent Bryant explained, “The number one cause of death among young kids is actually drowning, so we want to take this opportunity to help protect our kids as well as give them a unique athletic opportunity.” The board unanimously approved the partnership, and dates and details will be forthcoming.
The board also considered action on the passing of a levy. According to David McClure, “We are currently only levying 50 percent of what we can, and looking at the numbers, all of our surrounding counties are levying 100 percent of what they’re allowed, so that puts us at a competitive disadvantage.” McClure suggested the approval of submission of the levy to the voters, and the board approved that passage unanimously. Therefore, county ballots in November will include a choice on the school levy.
The board will meet for their next regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Kyle & Ann Fort Arts & Sciences Center. The public is encouraged to attend. Date and time are subject to change, consult www.greenbriercountyschools.com or call 304-647-6456.